Tag Archives: Orphans

Shadowghast – Thomas Taylor


Walker Books Australia

September 2021

ISBN: 9781406386301
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It’s back to Eerie-on-Sea for another cracking and creepy mystery. In this new adventure a seriously spooky magician arrives in town, accompanied by henchmen, and purports to be Herbie’s long-lost aunt. She seems to enthrall the boy but his friend and ally, Violet, is far from convinced of the Caliastra’s sincerity or truthfulness. As Halloween approaches and the time for the annual Ghastly Night event, strange things begin to happen.

People are either going missing altogether or somehow becoming changed – and not for the better. Poor Herbie yearns to have a real family and home and he truly wants to believe that Caliastra is both his aunt and that her intentions are wholesome but as the mystery deepens, it seems more and more unlikely.

Can a famous illusionist actually do real magic? Because once she demonstrates the power of the Shadowghast lantern, it would seem that the light it throws is indeed true sorcery. Perhaps the story of the Shadowghast is more than just legend and it’s up to Herbie and Violet to unravel the truth.

This series is so much fun and while, in our library, it has been a little slow to take off, it is definitely gaining momentum – and deservedly so. It is deliciously and thrillingly spooky, has exactly the right blend of mystery and humour, some wonderful themes of loyalty, friendship, family and courage and, for those of my ilk, fabulous frivolity and wordplay. One only has to encounter the two protagonists in the first book – Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma – to know that punnish fun is in store throughout! (fish and chips sold by Mr Seegol! hahahaha!)

This mix echoes the best of Lemony Snicket but is far superior in my opinion and Taylor’s skill in creating both his imaginary setting and engaging our suspension of disbelief is admirable.

If your kiddos haven’t got onto this series yet, I strongly recommend you adding it to your collection and book-talking it. Some read-aloud excerpts would certainly find their mark with any audience from around Year 4 upwards.

The Witches – Roald Dahl


Penguin Australia

November 2020

ISBN: 9780241438817

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $14.99

Oh yes!! it’s arrived!! the scrumpdiddlyumptious new The Witches on the screen and in the book!!! Thank you so much to Penguin Australia for not only the opportunity to have the brand new edition of the original book with a whizzbanging new movie tie-in cover but the double pass to see the movie! The Kid might be a cool teen but she was still hugely excited when she first saw the trailer for the new movie and it was no disappointment.

Roald Dahl’s subversive dark humour is an enduring hit with children from mid-primary upwards and is a regular ‘go to’ even for older kids. The Witches is one book that totally encapsulates that and has long been a favourite with kiddos of all reading ages and abilities.

We both loved the movie when we rocked up to see it yesterday. Yes, it’s very different to the earlier version (which to be honest was always a disappointment both to fans and to Dahl himself, with perhaps the exception of Mai Zetterling – did you know she lived in Australia for a time? I didn’t!). The new version, directed by Robert Zemecki, has transported the setting to Alabama with main characters of colour – the immensely talented Octavia Spencer and young ‘Hero Boy’ Jahzir Bruno (narrated as the older version by Chris Rock) and the addition of a brilliant Grand High Witch courtesy of Anne Hathaway – perfection! – and always hilarious, hotel manager Stanley Tucci. I loved that the witches and action were edgier and far more attuned (I think) to Dahl’s original intention of this warning to children that evil is real but that those who dare can defeat it.

The new edition of the book may have a new dress on but it is still the book we know and love with all the quirkiness of weird fonts for emphasis and the inimitable Quentin Blake illustrations. Without doubt it remains one of my top Dahl reads. I just love so much that the ‘weak’ can overcome the powerful with enough faith and ingenuity – what a powerful message to share with our readers that is! As Dahl himself said ‘Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.’

This was a package to inspire huge smiles all round – my only dilemma will be whether to add this new edition to my existing Dahl collection or to offer it up as highly sought after prize to my kiddos at school.

You know you will, so I likely don’t need to recommend and please please remember that ‘“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”’ – The Witches

The Unadoptables


Penguin Australia

July 2020

  • ISBN: 9780241453612
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP $16.99

There is something about stories set in Holland that I find particularly appealing. Perhaps it is just the vicarious sight-seeing but for some reason they are always engaging and often quirky. This one is no exception. Combining adventure and mystery, family life, loyalty and very unusual entrepreneurship this will find an enthusiastic audience with readers from around ten years upwards.

Five babies were left at Little Tulip orphanage each one in direct contravention of the ‘baby abandonment rules’… one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket. Twelve years after the shocking flouting of the conventions, Milou, Sem, Fenna, Lotta and Egg are known as the ‘unadoptables’ but they have an unbreakable bond with each other. Though each yearns for a conventional family their more unusual bond surpasses this desire in each as they remain determined to stay together, even when that means having to stay in the orphanage under the tyrannical rule of Matron Gassbeek.

When a sinister stranger appears late one night and decides to adopt all five it can only mean one thing – something particularly nasty is in store for the children. This in turn means another one thing – they must escape from the home and find their own place in the world.

The amazing adventure of the Unadoptables as they flee Amsterdam and follow some sketchy clues to what they believe might be Milou’s original home and what follows is a roller-coaster ride filled with puppets and abandoned windmills, pirate ships, clockwork mechanics and suspicious locals not to mention the pursuit of one very dogmatic Kinderbureau representative.

This is at times hilarious and at others poignant with a very hefty dose of creepiness and suspense included. In other words, kids will lap it up!

If you are looking for something refreshingly different to tempt your lovers of such writers as Jessica Townsend, Neil Gaiman or Katherine Rundell, look no further. Highly recommended for middle primary to lower secondary readers.

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby


Walker Books Australia

July 2020

Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce

ISBN: 9781760651930
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

When I mentioned that I was reading this Pamela Rushby commented that she had written the sort of book she would have liked to read when she was eleven. She’s also written the sort of book that I would have liked to read when I was eleven! I’ve mentioned here before my somewhat non-fiction nerdiness as a child and reading about ancient civilisations, particularly Egypt, was one of my ongoing passions – so much so that I kept my (much older) brother’s ancient history textbooks when he finished school (and still have a couple of them) and often requested such titles from my mother who loved to buy me books.

This delicious story is really historical fiction doubled as it is set in Victorian times when the fascination with Egyptology was at it’s zenith. Young orphan Hattie/Hatshepsut Lambton has led a lonely life in the care of an always absent guardian uncle and when he is regrettably eaten by a crocodile she is sent to her great-uncle and great-aunt, relatives she’s never known before, who live in a very peculiar and ramshackle old castle. Hattie finds herself within a loving family circle at last with some quirky strangeness which young readers will find absolutely entrancing.

Of course there would be no adventure without some dark deeds and the Ravens, brother and sister, who are assistants to her great-aunt (who specialises in mummy unwrappings for fashionable society parties) are clearly up to no good.

Hattie is intrigued by her relatives’ passion for and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians but finds herself increasingly distressed by the whole concept of destroying the mummies. When the Egyptian authorities ban the export of ancient artefacts Hattie thinks perhaps the whole mummy unwrapping might come to a natural end but the Ravens are determined to keep Great-Aunt Iphigenia undertaking her career, as it serves their nefarious financial ends well.

An expedition to Egypt itself in search of mummies to smuggle is a revelation to Hattie and she encounters many new experiences and unexpected friends and allies.

Pamela Rushby has created a wonderful adventure weaving many fascinating facts about both these historical periods with characters both intriguing and likable as well as those repellent and villainous. The touch of fantasy throughout is a bonus which will appeal to all young readers who will long to meet the mysterious Sekhmet and her lively kittens (resident housekeepers at Crumblin Castle) for themselves and they will enthusiastically embrace Hattie’s determination to protect her new-found family.

This is an absolutely super story which blends fantasy and fact beautifully. The publishers recommend it for 8 years upwards. I am going to keep it in my secondary library where I know I will have many Year 7 and 8 readers who will love it. It will certainly feature in my next book promotions to these students as well as my book club kiddos.

Highly recommended for avid readers from around middle primary upwards.

Classroom activities available here

Orphan Warriors: Children of the Otori #1 – Lian Hearn



JAN 28, 2020 | 9780733641213 | RRP $32.99


It’s been quite some time since I first read the Tales of the Otori series  but Hearn’s skill as a storyteller has certainly not diminished – witness the fact that I read this over four nights because it is so utterly compelling, just as the original saga was.

The long and bitter feuds between the Tribe and the clans have created much devastation and one significant outcome is the many children left orphans either as the result of their parents’ deaths in battles or as ‘honour’ demands.

The central character of this first in the new series is Sunaomi who along with his younger brother Chikara are the surviving children of Arai Zenko who, with his wife, was condemned as a traitor. The boys have only escaped death themselves as their aunt Kaede has interceded with the tyrant Lord Saga and promised that the boys will enter the monastery at Terayama as novice monks, never to leave it.

Sunaomi chafes against the dull routine of the monastery, though his teachers are kind, having been raised to be a warrior. But despite this he is also the grandson of Muto Shizuka and owes allegiance to the Tribe. At the monastery he begins to experience strange visions and events over which he seems to have no control. He also encounters Hisao, an angry young man, who is revealed as a ‘ghost master’.

Sunaomi is not destined to remain in obscurity within the monastic confines however and is taken from its security on the command of the Lord Mizuno and it is on this journey that he also meets Masao, the grandson of the erratic and cruel Saga, as well as many others.

As with the original tales there is a wide cast of characters and one must give full attention to the reading so as not to become confused but it is very much worth it as the riveting medieval fantasy unfolds.

Not for the faint-hearted as there is violence, intrigue and supernatural themes which all combine to make this one of the most commanding reads for young adults whether they are or are not familiar with Tales of the Otori.

It is thrilling and exciting for both genders as there are plenty of strong and vibrant characters of both sexes who demonstrate much courage, loyalty and intelligence as well as their own individual gifts.

Highly recommended for able readers from around 12 years upwards.

[and now I’m straight onto #2 Sibling Assassins!]

Malamander – Thomas Taylor


Walker Books Australia


ISBN: 9781406386288

May 2019
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99


Ok, so I’m a bit slow getting to this one (cue: moving house etc) but it is one not to be missed. Two orphans are brought together in the Grand Nautilus Hotel in a slightly odd town known as Eerie-on-Sea. Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at said hotel but when a strange girl arrives in his Lost-and-Foundry closely pursued by a scary individual with a boat hook hand he is completely perplexed and at a loss.  But Herbie is adept and not one to be easily daunted – well, actually perhaps he is – but he can rise to the occasion. And rise he does, with gusto as he connects with Violet Parma who is the pursuant of the frightening Boat Hook Man. No one knows what happened to Violet’s parents who mysteriously disappeared from the hotel twelve years previously but it seems that their absence has something to do with the legendary myth of the Malamander – a fearsome sea monster with a hidden secret.

Herbie and Violet are not entirely sure of each other but as the narrative continues they become a formidable team facing strange and powerful opposition but also bolstered by surprising allies.

With regular notes of humour the pair manages to baffle their way through and against their unpleasant (to say the least) opponents in their mission to not only rescue the Malamander’s fabled egg but to uncover the truth about Violet’s parents.

This is essentially a fun read despite the odious villains and young readers from around 10 years upwards will thoroughly enjoy their expedition to Eerie-on-Sea. This is loaded with underlying themes of trust and self-belief and both Herbie and Violet are just thoroughly likeable characters, even as they act in not quite so likeable ways.

The Snow Angel – Lauren St John



Harper Collins

Zephyr Books/Head of Zeus

ISBN  9781786695895

October 2017

RRP $19.99


It’s a long way from the wide blue skies and shimmering heat haze of Kenya to the bleak snow covered moors of Inverness and for 12 year old Makena the journey is not just a geographical one.

Much loved only child of a science teacher mother and a mountain guide father, Makena burns with passion for the mountains and climbing reckoning them her friends. When her parents are caught up in the Ebola outbreak on a mercy mission to Sierra Leone and die there, Makena’s world implodes into grief, loss of identity and homelessness. A spectacularly unsuccessful relocation to her paternal uncle’s poor home where his wife treats Makena as an unpaid servant ends abruptly and Makena finds herself fending for herself in the slums of Nairobi. Surviving like a gutter rat for a month or more, she is then swept up in a redevelopment which ruthlessly bulldozes the slums and she then finds herself rescued by a charitable organisation for girls and meets Helen. Just as Makena is recuperating from her trauma and a case of cholera, Helen has disappeared back to her parents’ home in Scotland and once again Makena feels herself abandoned.  But unexpectedly, arrangements are made for the young girl to spend a month over Christmas in the wilds of Scotland.  No spoilers here but suffice to say there is a happy ending for all.

This is just beautiful. It is warm and moving and oozes love despite the sadness threading throughout it. It is also somewhat mystical with the recurring motif of a special fox that seems to be akin to a guardian angel. There are lots of points of discussion; forgotten/orphaned children, civil war, rich vs poor, healing and the power of nature and love.

I read this in one sitting (well, lying down last night in bed) as I couldn’t put it down.  Lauren St John’s books about Africa have been wildly popular in my library for the past year or so and my prediction is that this will be just as enthusiastically received.

Check out Lauren’s website here and the book trailer here.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Popcorn Movie Time: The BFG


Last night we were fortunate enough – myself & Small, her little cousin The Divine Miss M and her BFF – to attend a preview 3D screening of Spielberg’s The BFG. Some reviews have claimed it didn’t translate well and if anything was ‘too faithful’ to Roald Dahl’s much-loved novel. I don’t need to explain the plot so will just comment on the movie.

Well this family didn’t find it so. I think, if anything, it is because it is so faithful to the book that it works.

Ruby Barnhill as Sophie is just the right kind of dorky to play the bespectacled orphan with pedantic tendencies who is plucked from her bedroom by a huge but kindly giant.Mark Rylance plays his part as the BFG with an endearing and appealing manner.

The BFG’s fellow giants – gargantuan in size and vile in persona – are suitably ferocious but with enough comedic touches to render them less scary than might be supposed.

The climactic scenes at Buckingham Palace with Penelope Wilton portraying a very Dahl-esque Queen Elizabeth are terrific. And by far the children’s favourite part of all was the frobscottle drinking followed by whizpopping. The corgis shooting up the stairs powered by their own emissions are hilarious – this thoroughly endorsed by Small today. 🙂

If you are a Dahl fan you will approve and if you have young children there is nothing in this that would be too terrifying.

Love the BFG’s cave/cottage and his room of dreams – and the ubiquitous snozzcumbers are truly revolting!

A huge shout out to Dot Tonkin of Random House Australia for extending the invitation!

It was a real high point in our holidays. Make sure you rush out to buy the new edition of the book. Our library will be featuring a Roald Dahl display following the holidays – and of course leading up to Roald Dahl Day in September.